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Xiaomi Mi 5 Offers Galaxy S7 Looks at Half the Price

BARCELONA, Spain — For its new flagship Mi 5 smartphone, Chinese phone maker Xiaomi is counting on a big boost from Qualcomm's Snapdragon 820 processor on the inside and an eye-catching design on the outside that reminds us of Samsung's latest models.

Available March 1 and starting at about just $262, the Mi 5 is certainly a stunner, and we had a chance to go hands-on with it here at Mobile World Congress.

Striking Design

While the Mi 5 boasts beefy specs, there's more to Xiaomi's new phone than just numbers. It sports a fairly striking design that builds on the success of the Mi 4, Xiaomi's first metal body product. Barra called the Mi 5's look "more elegant" than its predecessor, and that's not just a proud executive's marketing.

The high-end version of the Mi 5 has a 3D ceramic back cover with rounded edges. The phone has a glassy, super smooth feel in your hand, and at 4.55 ounces, the Mi 5 is exceptionally light. By comparison, the iPhone 6s, which is not exactly portly, weighs 5.04 ounces.

The Mi 5 does an exceptionally good job at transitioning from glass to metal on the side of the phone. There's hardly any gap. All told, the 5.69 x 2.7 x 0.28-inch Mi 5 feels like a lighter and thinner version of the Galaxy S7 that was also unveiled this week. Samsung's flagship measures 5.6 x 2.7 x 0.3 inches and weighs a heavier 5.4 ounces.

The Mi 5 offers a 5.15-inch 1080p display, which is slightly bigger than the S7's 5.1-inch panel. Barra says the screen size is slightly larger than 5 inches to squeeze in more LEDs — 16 in total that promise to be 17 percent more power efficient than the LEDs you'd find in typical flagship phones. The Mi 5 sports a 1920 x 1080 display which, at 600 nits, should be bright enough even when it's out in the sun's unforgiving glare.

The Mi 5 comes in three colors — black, pearl white, and gold. The $262 entry-level version features a 1.8GHz Snapdragon processor with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage.

Specs and Performance: Serious Speed

The Mi5 is definitely one of the fastest phones for the price. It packs a Snapdragon 820 processor, which promises a 100 percent performance boost over Qualcomm's 810 chip. Factor in faster dual-channel RAM that also doubles performance and flash storage which Xiaomi claims is 87 percent faster than eMMC 5.0, and the Mi 5 figures to outpace many rival 5-inch smartphones.

"I'm completely floored by its performance," said Hugo Barra, Xiaomi's vice president of international, said during a Mi 5 launch event in Barcelona today (Feb. 24). "It's fast beyond what people can imagine."

MORE: Xiaomi FAQ: What You Need to Know Before You Buy

Credit goes to the Snapdragon 820 for much of that performance boost, Barra says. New architecture introduced in that CPU helps the Mi 5 double the performance of previous-generation phones while consuming half the power. The Snapdragon also introduces a new GPU to the mix, the 530 Adreno, which delivers what Barra called "console-quality graphics."

The phone is powered a 3,000 mAh battery that supports quick charging. That's more juice than the Galaxy S7's 2,600 mAh battery.

Camera: 4-Axis Stabilization

Xiaomi also concentrated on the Mi 5's camera, paying particular attention to improving the optical image stabilization features. Instead of 2-axis stabilization, the Mi 5's rear camera offers 4-axis OIS, covering both rotational and transversal stabilization. That means the camera will not only correct for shaky hands when you're focusing in on a subject but will also guard against blurry images caused by moving your phone around to frame landscapes and vistas.

To drive home the point, Xiaomi showed an illustrative video in which the Mi 5 was strapped onto a vibrating machine along with an iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. (The latter Apple phone has optical image stabilization; the former does not.) Video shot on the 6s looked extremely jerky, while even the 6s Plus video was pretty shaky; the Mi 5 video, while noticeably bumpy in parts, looked comparatively smooth.

I had a quick chance to shoot two photos with the Mi 5's rear camera — one where I held the camera as steady as possible and another where I shook my arms wildly as I tapped the shutter. The second image wasn't as sharp as the first, but it was certainly passable and not one that I would immediately delete once I snapped it. I hope to put the optical image stabilization features through more rigorous testing soon.

The rear camera on the Mi 5 is powered by a 16-megapixel sensor and features DTI technology that keeps light from bleeding out of one pixel to another. You'll find a 4-MP camera up front with 2-micron large pixels that should bring more detail to your selfies.

Software: Marshmallow Plus MIUI

The Mi 5 runs MIUI 7, Xiaomi's skin of Android. It will be based on Android Marshmallow, making this the first Xiaomi phone to feature Google's latest version of Android. The phone offers full-featured NFC (near-field communications), meaning it can not only handle mobile payments, but can also let you top off your accounts by writing to your virtual cards.

Release Date and Pricing

With a starting price of around $262 (that's 1,999 Chinese RMB), the Mi 5 will go on sale March 1. Getting your hands on the Mi 5 in the U.S. may prove tricky, though. The phone will debut in China first before making its way to other global markets. In the past, Xiaomi hasn't sold directly to U.S. consumers, who have had to turn to third-party retailers overseas.

While the high-end Mi 5 Pro features a 2.15GHz CPU, 128GB  of storage and 4GB of RAM for around $354. A mid-range model of the Mi 5 with 64GB of storage and the faster Snapdragon 820 will sell for around 2,299 Chinese yaun.

Outlook

The Mi 5 looks like one of the best Android phones of the year in terms of sheer value. Although it doesn't offer a quad HD display like the Galaxy S7, this flagship has everything else you could want, including an elegant and one-hand-friendly design, highly capable camera and powerful Snapdragon 820 processor. If Xiaomi can figure out a way to get this phone stateside, it will likely be a hit.